Egypt's army says no South Sinai, Suez state of emergency

CAIRO Fri Jul 5, 2013 8:38am EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian troops were "on alert" in the Sinai Peninsula, a military spokesman said on Friday, but he denied a report by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that a state of emergency had been declared in Suez and South Sinai provinces.

The newspaper's website said that the raised alert levels were a response to an overnight attack by Islamist gunmen on an airport in the Sinai town of El Arish.

"We were already very prepared in this important strategic region," a military source said. "The announcement is just to assure our soldiers and people that we are ready in Sinai. As for Suez we are always on an alert state there."

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, who oversees the key world trade route, said it was operating normally with no disruption to cargo traffic. Mohab Mameesh said 48 ships had passed through the canal on Friday.

Early on Friday, Islamist gunmen staged multiple attacks on security forces in Sinai two days after the Egyptian army overthrew elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Security sources said a soldier was killed and two were wounded when a police station in Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip came under rocket fire. The police post is close to the local headquarters of military intelligence.

Earlier, attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at army checkpoints guarding El Arish airport, close to the border with the Gaza Strip and Israel, in the latest of a string of security incidents in the lawless region.

It was not clear whether the attacks were coordinated and in reaction to Mursi's removal.

Islamist militants believed to have links to al Qaeda have established a foothold in the sparsely populated desert peninsula, sometimes in league with local Bedouin smugglers and with Palestinian militants from Gaza.

(Reporting By Maggie Fick, Yasmine Saleh and Asma Alsharif; editing by Mike Collett-White/Mark Heinrich)

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